Booklets and Articles Index
The History of the Beginning and Growth of the Worldwide Church of God
By Herbert W. Armstrong
WE HAVE NOW covered the beginning, to August of 1933, of the present succession of THE CHURCH OF GOD, founded A.D. 31 by Jesus Christ.
It was begun amid persecution, in the midst of the worst economic depression of our time, and with only 19 members, mostly new converts.
In October, 1933, about Feast of Tabernacles time, opportunity had come to me to go on the air on Eugene's [Oregon] minimum-wattage Radio KORE, weekday mornings at 7:30 for 15-minute programs, free of cost.
That had led to launching the Radio Church of God program, 30 minutes on Sunday mornings, beginning the first Sunday in 1934 - Jan. 7.
In the first months after my conversion, spring of 1927, I had conceived the determination to publish a new magazine. I had been in magazine and newspaper advertising since age 18. But the new magazine would be different. It would not be secular. It would carry no commercial advertising. It could not be sold - there would be no subscription price. But it would make the TRUTH PLAIN - a magazine of UNDERSTANDING. God's Word, the Holy Bible, is TRUTH. There would be no magazine like it on earth.
I had planned a "Three-Point Campaign" - spearheaded by the radio broadcast, followed by The Plain Truth and reinforced by personal evangelism holding six-nights-a-week meetings.
I quote here from the beginning of Chapter 31 of my Autobiography:
"Surely nothing could have started smaller. Born in adversity in the very depths of the Depression, this Work of God was destined to grow to worldwide power.
"But I did not foresee its destiny then. There were no illusions of grandeur. It was not through any planning of mine that the little three-point campaign then being launched was to expand into its present global scope and influence.
"Most people are conscious only of what they see - of the material. They fail to see the invisible hand of God in the working out of things.
"All I had in mind, as The World Tomorrow program was being planned late in 1933, was to serve God faithfully wherever He should lead in Lane County, Oregon.
"It is true that 'where there is no vision the people perish.' But few people realize that the source of true vision is God. There has been vision behind the planning and phenomenal growth of this great Work. But this is the Work of God, not of man, and the vision and planning has been that of Jesus Christ, the active living HEAD of this Work, not of man."
From the beginning of January 1934, I began planning to issue the magazine conceived in my mind seven years before - in 1927. God caused me to wait seven years before starting it. And even then it started smaller, surely, than any magazine ever did! There was no money. I had wondered, back in 1927, How would I gain subscribers? For, even though I envisioned a no-subscription-price magazine, still, being experienced in magazine publishing, I knew its circulation must come from subscribers who requested it, even for free!
But now that problem was solved, I would announce it over the air. I would try to sell the listening audience on it - cause them to want to subscribe - even at no subscription price!
Necessity may be the mother of invention. So without money, I borrowed a typewriter. I had barely enough money to buy mimeograph stencils and some inexpensive paper for printing. The local mimeograph dealer offered to allow me to use without cost one of his mimeograph machines. I cut the headlines myself with a mimeograph stylus.
The Plain Truth "magazine" made its most humble bow on Feb. 1 1934. By that time I had obtained subscription list of around 350, including our own and the Oregon "Sardis" members. Volume I, Number 1, of The Plain Truth was a pretty amateurish, homemade sort of thing. Probably no one but myself would had dignified it with the name "magazine." But it was a START! And its contents were not amateurish but professional - publishing God's TRUTH!
After the Alvadore, Ore., meetings and launching of the future World Tomorrow program and The Plain Truth, I soon began holding evangelistic meetings in other Oregon towns.
After the mimeographing of the first Plain Truth, apparently the Eugene A.B. Dick Co. dealer did not want to continue loaning me the monthly use of a modern mimeograph. He came up with an antiquated secondhand ancestor of the mimeograph - an old Neostyle, which I managed to buy for $10. I also managed to buy a secondhand typewriter for $10. The ancient Neostyle was entirely hand operated. It served us some few years.
After the two or three months' meetings in the old Masonic building - upstairs, with its one-room office - I was offered an office in the old Hampton building, across from the post office in Eugene. My new office rent was $5 per month.
It was a second-floor small office, with no windows, no ventilation except a transom into an adjoining large room used for labor union meetings. Whenever a union meeting was held, we found next morning stale cigar smoke had filtered into my office through the transom. We could only work a couple hours or so, and had to leave until stale air seeped out.
In this room were a couple of scarred old tables and a couple of old chairs. I had no desk but these old tables. I moved the antiquated Neostyle and secondhand typewriter in, and this became our office for the next two or three years.
I wrote the articles for The Plain Truth and cut the mimeograph stencils. My wife was the "pressman." She hand-cranked the Neostyle, feeding each sheet of paper one at a time through it by hand. I was therefore editor and "typesetter." She was my "data processing center," maintaining the mailing list on paper with pen and ink. For filing cabinets I used cardboard cartons obtained gratis at a grocery store, indexing filing folders in these cartons. They had to suffice instead of modern steel filing cabinets.
Yet it seemed to Mrs. Armstrong and me that we were now "getting up in the world." From no office I had advanced to a no-rent office, and now I had a $5-per-month office! A single dollar was a considerable item to us then.
Few indeed today know the sacrifice, the poverty to which I had been reduced, the hardship, the opposition, the persecution God led me to endure that His GOSPEL MESSAGE might be thundered in all the world. Yes, and for the first time since about A.D. 53 - for a duration of 1,900 years! - that God's Message - that of the world's ONLY HOPE - could now go to kings and heads of nations over all continents! - that God's own Church could be revitalized - again raised up in our time - and its brethren be awakened to GOD'S TRUTH.
I close this chapter with a quotation from the Autobiography, written prior to or soon after the year 1960 - with a few additions I wish now - writing in July, 1980 - to insert. With these new additions inserted, I quote:
"I think it well that the reader be given some idea of the financial hardship under which God's present worldwide Work got under way." Some persecutors imply that I was "in it for the money."
"And further because an advanced student here on the Ambassador College campus expressed great surprise the other day to learn that I had been forced into abject poverty and to labor along for 28 long and lean years in economic hardship. He had heard that I had been 'knocked down' economically by God, somewhat as the apostle Paul was by blindness, and plunged into God's service. But he assumed that the financial 'punishment' had consisted of some three or four comparatively short periods of perhaps a few weeks or months.
"So let me say right here something about conversion I find most people do not understand.
"The REPENTANCE required by God's conditions to being truly converted by receiving God's Holy Spirit is something far different than most people suppose! It is infinitely more than merely 'seeing' God's truth, or some of it, and being good enough to accept and embrace it. It is something altogether different from merely agreeing with certain doctrines!"
I add now, in 1980, the question, How MANY of you who profess to be spiritually converted and have come into God's Church have had that kind of conversion? You saw the TRUTH. You accepted it - perhaps with some elation and joy. Could you be like those in Jesus' parable of the sower and the seed, who "when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness" (Mark 4:16), but are not truly converted (CHANGED) - and do not endure and "bring forth fruit" (verse 20)? Conversion is MUCH MORE THAN THAT! Continue from the Autobiography:
"Whoever you are, YOU HAVE, or you have had, an IDOL. You have had another 'god' before the true living Almighty GOD. It might be your hobby or your pleasure, favorite sport, TV program or pastime - whatever has filled your interest and your time. It might even be your wife, your husband or children. It could be your job (if it was first in your thoughts and affections and interests). It might be your own vanity, your lipstick and personal appearance (if it became vanity). It could be your business or profession (if it were your main goal in life). Very often it is the opinion of your family, your group, club or social or business associates - and what they think of you.
"But whatever it is, that idol must be crushed, SMASHED, literally torn out of your mind, even though it hurts more than having all your teeth pulled out and perhaps a jawbone too! I believe few if any experience this process painlessly. I know of no anesthetic that will render it pleasurable. How about your conversion - if that's what it really was?
"Now I had an idol. My whole mind and heart was set on that idol. I had worked hard, night and day, for that false god. My life objective was the intense desire - the desperate, overpowering, driving ambition - to become 'successful' in the eyes of important business men - to be considered by them as outstandingly 'IMPORTANT' - to achieve status in the world. I did not have a love for money as such. But I coveted the status that would gratify vanity! "After establishing my publishers' representative business in Chicago, IL., I aspired some day to own one of the finest and largest homes in the north-shore aristocratic suburb of Winnetka. I wanted to be regarded as 'important' by the important."
Crashing down to reality
"I was so zealously set on accomplishment that it became the god I served.
"God could not use me as long as I had another 'god' more important in my eyes than He. Of course I didn't know yet, then, that God intended to use me. But when He did, tearing that false ambition out of me was like yanking out, root and branch, my very life itself - for it had been my life! It was smashing dead everything I had lived and worked for!
"So God started the process by first taking away my business by bankrupting my every major client." That included such giant corporations as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the J.T. Case farm implement company, John Deere & Co., Dalton Adding Machine Co. and others - all in the flash depression of 1920 went into receivership. 'Twice, later, He swept businesses that promised multimillion-dollar rewards right out from under my feet. He brought me down to poverty and hunger!"
I felt I had become like King Midas in reverse - everything I touched turned to nothing!
By hard work, driving myself, resourcefulness, persuasion and determination I had built, by age 28, an income equal to, in the 1980-dollar value, $175,000 a year!
"But the bigger they come, as the saying is, the harder they fall! And all that ego came crashing down, down, DOWN! I had been so big, in my own sight, I could not see GOD in the picture! But God had whittled self-righteous Job down to size. God drove strutting King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon out to eat grass with wild beasts. God struck down arrogant, persecuting Saul with blindness so He could open his eyes, convert him, change his name to the apostle Paul. And He was adequately able to knock me down off my imaginary perch - again and again - until I surrendered completely to Him! I came to realize that all that 'self-importance' was pure illusion. I was brought down to reality with a THUD!
"Then instead of vanity, ego, misguided self-importance, God fed me, for 28 long years, on the raw and scanty diet of humiliation, poverty and hunger!" Yet on surrender and conversion, He began feeding me also on FAITH replacing self-confidence, TRUTH replacing worldly acquisition, the way of His law - LOVE, GIVING, SHARING - replacing carnal GETTING!
"Had God allowed me to suffer financial reverses, even to the point of experiencing real hunger, for a day or a year, I might have regained the same sense of materialistic ambition, once back on my financial feet.
"But God had in mind, as events since have proved, using me as His instrument in preparing the way for the KINGDOM OF GOD - for WORLD PEACE - for universal happiness, joy and salvation. And to that end, for a growing worldwide Work involving tremendous expenditures in His service. He knew that He could never entrust me to handle millions of dollars of His money, so long as my heart remained set on personal STATUS, self-importance and things money could buy to exalt self-vanity.
"But please do not misunderstand. It is not wrong in God's sight to have or enjoy the good material things in life. God's greatest men, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, were prosperous and wealthy men. God Himself prospered them because their ways were right before Him. Although God allowed Satan to take away Job's wealth it was not because his wealth was a sin - but to humble Job from his sin of self-righteousness. Once Job's vanity was deflated, God restored his material wealth DOUBLE! What is wrong, and therefore sinful, is setting our hearts on these material things instead of God's TRUE VALUES! The love of material things - the VANITY of exalting the self above God - of wanting the praise of PEOPLE by coveting STATUS in their eyes - these are the evil things God wants rooted out. When the heart is set on such things, the CHARACTER shrinks inwardly and dries up. THANK GOD He saved me from such a fate by 28 years of poverty and humility!"
Dying to live!
"I was not converted until I was brought to the place where I realized my own NOTHINGNESS and God's GREATNESS - until Satan's injected VANITY was driven out and the ego was completely whipped, defeated, conquered! When I came to consider myself as a worthless 'hunk of human junk' not even worth throwing on the junk pile - the self-exalting ego conquered - completely REPENTANT for the way I had traveled - now ready to TURN FROM that former life - I told God I was now ready to GIVE myself and my life to HIM! I didn't then see how He could use it, but if He could He could have it. Jesus Christ had bought and paid for it with His life's blood!
"But let me say to the reader, IF God could take that completely defeated, worthless life, and use it to develop and build what HE HAS DONE, He can take your life, too, and use it - and in due time convert it into a very immortal SPIRIT-COMPOSED, GOD-BEING as one of His children in the glorious KINGDOM OF GOD! There is NO END to what He may do with YOUR life, ultimately! UNDERSTAND, what has happened since gives me no glory! But it magnifies the power and glory of GOD to take such a worthless but submissive tool and accomplish what HE purposes through it!"
But don't ever suppose it comes easy! You will receive a portion - probably a very small portion at first - of God's Holy Spirit upon a REAL REPENTANCE, FAITH and baptism. Repentance is far more than REMORSE! I know a man who could shed almost "buckets of tears" in remorse - but always tomorrow was another day and he had not really changed at all! As I said, had God kept me in poverty only a day or a year, I might have reverted right back to the same old ways. REPENT means to TURN FROM! It means the DEATH of the old self. It means a CHANGED and a NEW LIFE in CHRIST! It is often a very PAINFUL process - it was for me!
But consider this! You were not born with "human nature" as we know it. Neither were you born with God's divine nature!
What we call human nature is subtly and gradually injected by SATAN the great DECEIVER! He is the "prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2). As radio sounds and television pictures come into your home through the air, so Satan's nature comes into every human as soon as the baby mind begins to function! SATAN BROADCASTS! Not in sounds, words or pictures - but in ATTITUDES, THOUGHTS, IMPULSES!
But Satan broadcasts into the infant mind only little by little - selfishness, coveting, vanity, then gradually jealousy and envy, resentment of authority over one, a spirit of COMPETITION, the desire to "GET," to take, to have, to accumulate. This evil nature grows little by little.
When one is converted - when God calls, opens one's eyes to His TRUTH, brings a real REPENTANCE from these ways of "GET" - that is, a turning FROM those human ways Satan pumped in - one cannot receive GOD'S HOLY, DIVINE NATURE in its complete FULLNESS all at once! Not any more than you received Satan's nature all at once!
One must GROW in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Old ways and habits must be rooted out. A newborn baby doesn't learn to walk all at once. One does not OVERCOME the former life, old habits, all at once. In his MIND - in the inner INTENTION - one makes the full decision to CHANGE all at once. He intends to, means to do so, but is unable to become spiritually perfect all at once.
I did deeply MEAN TO give my life over to CHRIST at conversion. But I did not succeed all at once in doing that job perfectly and completely - nor can YOU! So do not become discouraged. It is the OVERCOMERS who shall reign with Christ. I am still overcoming! So, I hope, are you!
Growth of the Church
As each individual child of God must GROW - and gradually, not attain perfection at one bound all at once - so God's Church in our time has had to GROW!
I did carry on continual personal six-nights-a-week campaigns for some time. Radio broadcasting in due time leaped into Salem and Portland, Ore. - then Spokane, Wash., then Los Angeles, Calif., then COAST TO COAST! Little by little The Plain Truth grew. Little churches were formed from my personal campaigns, but because there was no minister to feed the flock, each soon died. Cooperation continued with the Salem, W.Va., offshoot, and also with the Stanberry Church of God bodies. Persecution from their ministers continued.
By 1946 I planned definitely, as Christ led, to raise up Ambassador College in Pasadena. Headquarters were moved there. The college started Oct. 8, 1947. Beginning 1951 and 1952 a few graduates became ministers. New churches sprang up. It was a story of GROWTH! As you and I, as individuals, must GROW in spite of adversity, so the Church and Work has GROWN. JESUS CHRIST DID IT ALL!